Objectives: To compare and contrast women with a history of child abuse with those who have no history of child abuse on STI/HIV risk behaviours and safer sex beliefs in an inner city UK sample.
Design: Cross sectional sample survey.
Methods: Routine female clinic attendees were invited to complete an anonymous self report questionnaire which included background information, sexual and drug risk behaviour, self reported sexually transmitted infections (STIs), psychological distress (Hospital and Anxiety Depression Scale; HADS), Sexual Risk Cognitions Questionnaire (SRCQ), and history of child sexual, physical, and emotional abuse.
Results: 137 (45%) of 303 women reported a history of child abuse; all three forms of child abuse—sexual (26%), physical (20%), and emotional (27%) abuse—overlapped. The majority of women reported one sexual partner in the past month, and the majority did not use condoms. Women reporting a history of child abuse were more likely to have had previous STIs (p=0.007) and to have had more than one STI (p=0.04) compared with women who had not experienced child abuse. Injecting drug use and commercial sex work were of low prevalence across the whole sample and no group differences were found. Women reporting a history of child abuse had higher HADS anxiety (p=0.03) compared with women with no history of child abuse. Confidence in using condoms with a sexual partner was not related to child abuse. Women with a history of child abuse reported significantly higher frequency of thoughts reflecting anticipated negative reactions from partners to suggesting condom use (p=0.02) and judging a partner's risk by their appearance (p=0.05) compared with women with no history of child abuse.
Conclusions: Comparable rates of child sexual abuse with US studies were found in this UK inner city population of women attending sexual health services. Women who had experienced child abuse were more likely to report ever having had an STI and having had more than one STI. Complex psychological and social factors contribute to difficulties for women in negotiating safer sex including emotional distress, abuse histories, and anticipating a negative reaction from partners. Multifaceted prevention models are needed.
- child abuse
- risk behaviour
- sexually transmitted infections
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